Bay laurel makes an attractive addition to any garden and its leaves add a wonderful aromatic flavor to soups and stews. It is very easy to grow as long as you take good care of it. This article covers when to harvest bay leaves, which leaves to choose, and how to harvest bay leaves to encourage growth (and prevent damaging the plant!).
How to harvest bay leaves
It is easy to grow in pots and can be trained using topiary techniques into many different shapes.
Whether you are harvesting bay leaves for a stew for dinner tonight, or cutting it back at the end of the growing season, you need to make sure that you prune it with care to keep the plant healthy.
There are a few simple steps to harvesting bay leaves without damaging the plant, but done correctly, it will keep your plant healthy and encourage fresh growth.
Scroll down for the printable instruction card for how to harvest bay leaves, or read on for all the details!
Why harvest bay leaves?
Good question! Fresh herbs are usually the better option compared to dried herbs, but this is not the case with bay leaves. You can use a fresh bay leaf straight from the tree, but you may find it has quite a bitter flavor compared to that of dried bay leaves.
For this reason, I recommend harvesting and drying bay leaves in advance, to make sure you always have some dried and ready for cooking.
See this article for more info: How to Dry Bay Leaves.
When to harvest bay leaves
If you have a newly planted bay tree, then you should allow it to mature before you start harvesting the leaves. Once it is around two years old you can start to the mature leaves, so choose the largest leaves on the plant.
Bay leaves can be harvested year-round, but if you want to harvest a large amount at one time for long-term storage, it is best to harvest them in mid-summer when the leaves are at their peak in terms of essential oils, hence flavor.
If you need to prune your bay laurel to maintain its shape, it is best done during late spring or early summer. This also helps to encourage a dense growth habit.
How to pick which bay leaves to harvest?
When choosing which bay leaves to harvest, pick mature leaves (dark green leaves), not the fresh new growth (bright green). These will have the most intense flavor and also will not affect the growth of the plant.
If you are harvesting bay leaves for cooking (or storing for cooking), avoid leaves with blemishes on them.
How to cut bay leaves
Bay leaves should be harvested using a sharp pair of secateurs or kitchen scissors to make a clean cut. Though if you are just taking a few leaves it is fine just to pick them off the tree.
Cut the leaf close to the branch to avoid leaving a length of bare leaf stem attached to the parent plant. This will encourage new growth, and reduces the risk of disease.
If you are pruning your bay tree, cut branches back to a lower leaf or bud. To direct the future shape of the growth of your bay tree, prune shoots back to a bud facing in the direction of the desired growth.
Storing bay leaves
Once you have harvested your bay leaves, give them a quick rinse under cool water to remove any dirt and pat dry with a paper towel to remove any excess water.
Bay leaves can be kept fresh or preserved by drying or freezing. The method to choose depends on how long you want to store them for:
- Fresh bay leaves can be kept in an air tight container in the refrigerator for a few days.
- Fresh bay leaves can be stored in the freezer for around 3 months
- Dried bay leaves can be stored for up to two years, in an airtight container in a cool dark place.
For more info, see this article on How to Store Bay Leaves.
Harvesting bay leaves – step-by-step
- A mature bay laurel tree (at least 2 years old)
- Sharp scissors or secateurs (if harvesting many leaves)
- Select bay leaves to harvest - choose mature (dark green leaves), the oldest and largest are best. Choose leaves with no blemishes.
- If you are just taking a few leaves it is fine just to pick them off the tree, if you are harvesting many leaves or pruning your tree, use a sharp pair of secateurs or kitchen scissors to make a clean cut.
- Cut or pick the leaf off close to the branch, to avoid leaving a length of bare leaf stem attached to the parent plant.
- If you are pruning your bay tree, cut branches back to a lower leaf or bud [Note 1].
- Once you have harvested your bay leaves, give them a quick rinse under cool water to remove any dirt and pat dry with a paper towel to remove any excess water.
- To direct the future shape of the growth of your bay tree, prune shoots back to a bud facing in the direction of the desired growth.
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